Honest effort vs. political footballs | VailDaily.com

Honest effort vs. political footballs

Don Rogers

Nelson Gould has been made a martyr in the struggle against holding teachers to stricter standards, whatever the real reason his time as principal of Eagle Valley High School came to an abrupt end.

Some teachers districtwide, along with parents caught in their sway, have trumpeted their displeasure with Gould’s dismissal a couple of weeks ago and laid it at the feet of that benighted TAP. Frankly, this criticism is not fair to Gould or the school district, and it’s fundamentally dishonest. They’ve turned the principal into a political football – and rather selfishly, at that.

The principal, as this theory goes, did not sufficiently embrace the school district’s commitment to the Teacher Advancement Program. So he had to go.

Logically, this reasoning does not quite hold up. Certainly, if a principal refuses to carry out a policy directed by the school board, well, he should go. That’s called insubordination. Generally, though, foot-dragging with a program would lead to contracts quietly not being renewed during summer, when there’s less sudden impact on a school. Abrupt terminations suggest personnel situations that are more immediately pressing.

School district officials cannot talk about personnel decisions such as this. In the vacuum, less disciplined minds leap to conclusions and opportunists make ’em up. There’s a reason some wags observe that school politics are the nastiest of all – well, maybe next to those involving Little League or hockey parents.

Of course, politics isn’t about logic and the timing seems perfect to press ahead with an onslaught against TAP. In the public arena, most of it is anonymous.

The gist is that this newfangled program is driving out teachers who don’t accept change or wish to put in the effort required to make the system work, and earn bigger raises. Teachers are stressed, we’re warned, and some are ready to bail.

The criticism appears to assume that the mean old school board and the mean old administration are hell-bent on pulling apart a veritable monument to quality education, brick by brick.

But that’s just not the reality. The Eagle County School District long has provided a middling education in a middling state. As one part of a larger millennial drive to improve the quality of our schools, the district raised teacher pay and proposed in November 2001 to raise it some more with a merit-based program with real expectations for the faculty. The voters went for it solidly, although taxpayer advocate Michael Cacioppo soon filed a lawsuit that continues to prevent the district from using the money.

I can tell you that without the promise of making teachers earn at least part of their raises with quantifiable merit, I would not have voted for the proposition. And I have doubts that Question 3-D would have passed without the merit pay part. As last fall’s failed school bond vote showed, the constituency isn’t about to just give its hard-earned money away.

The district must improve, and a big part of that is holding teachers more accountable. If that stresses some out, so be it. Welcome to the real world.

Part of improving involves change. Doing the same old thing and expecting a different result is a classic definition for insanity. Yes, change, trying new things, that does bring uncertainty, even fear. The alternative is not acceptable, though. The district needs to make changes if it is to better serve our community and better educate our children.

Along these lines, not all turnover is bad. Teachers unwilling to step up probably ought to step out. Yes, that’s a cold assessment. But the stakes are our community’s children and giving them the best shot at success, not preserving a version of insanity by continuing down the same old middling path.

Still, as TAP works through its second year, the early progress is promising. Turnover, coincidentally enough, is at its lowest rate in a decade. Student achievement scores are up, and the trend is more pronounced in the TAP schools than the others.

TAP, or any merit-based system, does and will require more corrections and open discussion on how to make it work at optimum. But the time for arguing against the program wholesale passed two years ago, when the school board made the tough decision to embrace TAP.

Now it’s time for good faith effort, truly for the kids’ sake – not taking cheap shots and creating convenient martyrs in an emotional last gasp to preserve an easier, more comfortable road to nowhere.

I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather have teachers who are willing to go earn their raises than those employing the intellectual dishonesty it requires to throw political footballs. What kind of lesson is that?

Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or editor@vaildaily.com

Support Local Journalism